I did some headphone shopping last week while killing time in Yodobashi Camera Shinjuku. Yodobashi is one of my favourite places for headphone shopping because of the sheer number of headsets you can try out. With the Bluetooth headsets you simply pair them to your own phone and listen to your own variety of music. I’ve always been a big fan of Audio-Technica headphones as they seem to generally balance the sound quality and cost pretty well. AT has launched a new range of Bluetooth headphones on November 25th. The ATH-AR5BT slot right in the middle of the range, priced at ~¥21,000 and come in a variety of colors. (Black, silver, red and blue)
These headphones feature 45mm drivers and fit over the ears. They’re fairly light (~240g), and I had no fatigue in wearing them for >10 hours in a row. They feature 30 hours of Bluetooth usage and over 1000 hours of standby. Charging takes a few hours to go to full, but this doesn’t seem too bad. The build quality is excellent and they feel like they’ll stand up to heavy travel usage. The headphones also fold up smoothly and pack easily into the top of my backpack. The ear cups do rotate a little, but much less than some other AT headsets, it’s mostly for comfort.
The headphones feature a headphone jack with an included detachable cord allowing non-BT usage. When wiring in, they provide a 39Ω impedence and a 5 to 40,000 Hz response rate. This complies with the “Hi-Res Audio” standard from the Japan Audio Association. AT claims these are a new version of their 45mm drivers, and I think that is probably the case. I’ve got a few other wired Audio-Technica headphones to compare it to and these are quite favourable. Compared to my 40mm on-ear headset I use for conference calls, these definitely feature a better mid and high end. Compared to the 45mm AT over-ear set I’d previously used for travel these are comparable but feel a little more balanced. And compared to my big 50mm AT headset, these lack the high-end, but also lack the accompanying treble fatigue. They’re quite good for general listening and probably are my new go-to wired pair as well. Having the headphone-in makes these a good only pair of headphones, and certainly all you’d need to travel with.
The Bluetooth is surprisingly good. They support AptX, AAC and SBC codecs. There is still loss in the audio, and it’s more apparently in some music than others. Mac OS X devices automatically use the AptX codec with these headphones, while iOS devices don’t appear to. This makes a noticable difference in audio quality and is rather shitty of Apple not to support. It feels like Apple is withholding this to give a quality advantage to their own “W1” headsets, and if so that is very shitty and anti-consumer. Bluetooth probably won’t see real lossless audio until 2018 when bandwidth is quite a bit higher. For listening on a plane, you’ll basically never notice the lossiness. Nor is there any really noticable while watching videos, movies or anything other than high quality music. The response rate over Bluetooth is a little more restrictive than when wired (as you’d imagine) at 20-20,000 Hz. Pairing is automatic and almost instant in both iOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2. I’ve not seen any disconnects or strange performance either. These headphones also support the NFC assisted pairing that is popular in Japanese devices, but lacking that doesn’t seem to really be a big deal on an iPhone. There are audio cues played over the headset for pairing and unpairing. They feature a volume control that doubles as a next/prev/pause control depending on how long you hold the switch. It’s actually pretty intuitive after using it a few times.
These are not noise cancelling headphones, though they have very good physical noise isolation. There is also almost no sound leakage even at very high volume levels. They come with the detachable headphone line in cable and a USB micro cable for charging. They also come with AT’s typical leather carrying bag, and fold up for easier stowage. Audio-Technica is also selling a lower end set at ~¥10,000. You trade the 45mm drivers for 40mm, and lose a little bit of the high frequency response. They still feature the same 30 hour battery life, but are on-ear instead of over-ear and the build quality isn’t quite so good. However they are a great headset for the price, and if you don’t mind on-ear headphones they’re a good choice. (I get a bit of physical ear fatigue from on-ear myself) Hopefully this entire line of headphones makes its way to the west soon, as they’re fantastic. Bluetooth isn’t perfect yet (though very very good on OSX with that AptX codec), but it’s become good enough for listening on flights. With a high level of comfort for long term wear and the support for wired listening these are a perfect headset for travel!